Social Customer Service is the new Marketing hero

11 min read

Leading a marketing team comes with many responsibilities, and perhaps one of the most overlooked is making sure we’re aligned with the different teams in the company, which has more to it than navigating the troubled and widely documented Sales & Marketing relationship.

It’s particularly relevant that all customer-facing teams share a common strategy and sync regularly to ensure a coherent communication plan, and it really doesn’t get more customer-facing than Customer Service. So, if you’re working in customer service, wondering about aligning with different teams yourself, let me give you some insights about what Marketing can offer and is expecting from you.

For mass-market B2C brands, the biggest intersection between marketing and customer service lies in Social Media.

Even with organic social traffic being mostly a relic of the past, their huge popularity and incredibly precise targeting capabilities make Facebook, Instagram and Twitter advertising a must-have in the digital marketing toolbox.

In fact, according to eMarketer, over 90% of US companies with 100+ employees use at least one social network for marketing purposes. But what does it mean for customer service?

Social Media Customer Service

While Marketing teams were quick to adopt social media as a preferred channel to reach customers with commercial messages and advertising, savvy consumers were equally eager to take advantage of this new communication channel.

The possibility of talking back to brands, with private or public messages, didn’t go unnoticed – 37% of US internet users are using social media for customer support purposes.

Contrarily to what some reports may have you think about customer support, millennials, or both, phone support is alive and well, and it is still the most popular channel to request customer support. This is especially true with complex issues. Apparently, humans in need of assistance just love to connect with other humans.

However, internet users already find that social media is a better channel for getting a problem solved over email or web chat.

Unsurprisingly, in a study conducted by eMarketer, when asked about the most important aspect of a good digital customer experience, 38% of users said it was getting their issue solved in a single interaction, while 26% said it was receiving a speedy and timely response. This plays very well for social media, a very convenient medium where interactions happen in (near) real time.

Its exponentially higher exposure transferred more and more power to the customers as time went by, and they’re only getting more demanding when it comes to social media customer service.

Note: n=2,002 ages 16+; numbers may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Source: NewVoiceMedia, “Serial Switchers Swayed by Sentiment” conducted by Opinion Matters, May 17, 2018

This trend makes it inevitable that customer service and marketing now share the social media turf and need to be aligned on the messaging, processes and tools to represent the brand.

In this day and age, businesses that continue to use social media solely as a promotional tool and dismiss all grounds for two-way communication are missing a big opportunity to increase customer satisfaction and even risk going viral for all the wrong reasons. We all say all publicity is good publicity. That is, until it happens to you.

How to get started?

Marketing and customer service are often far from each other in large organisations. At Unbabel, we’re not even in the same building (although we meet regularly for coffee to catch up on neighbourhood gossip and complain about the weather). But we know how important it is to work together.

In a recent study, 66% of marketing leaders said they are working regularly with customer service and 64% cooperate to answer social media customer service inquiries.

If you want to tackle social media strategically and provide an excellent customer experience, you need to be aware of the right moments to engage in a discussion, define plans, assign ownership and evaluate the results.

So if you haven’t already, I suggest you gather the marketing and customer service leaders in your company around the same table and go through the following steps. This is a meeting you won’t regret.

1. Identify your audience

Before any customer facing activity is deployed, it’s essential to understand who you’re talking to.

A common way to do this is to create buyer personas — fictional representations of your audience. In the quest to capture the essence and idiosyncrasies of this mythical creature, it’s really useful to get inputs from the people that are actually talking to the customers everyday — typically your Sales and Customer Service teams. They’re the ones who know the pain points, their concerns, what they say they need from a product or service, and what they actually do (not always the same).

After that, put your thinking caps on and combine market research intelligence with insights gathered from the actual customer base through surveys, interviews and feedback. Hubspot offers very detailed guidance and templates to create your personas, if you’re in need for some extra guidance.

2. Choose the right platforms

Once you have identified the characteristics of your audience, it’s time to decide where you want to engage them. While it may be tempting to establish a presence everywhere, it’s wiser to be more strategic.

Avoid falling into the trap of following assumptions about how your customers use social media, and carefully study how each platform is used, how your brand fits into it and the resources necessary to assure a positive experience. If it’s not a fit, don’t do it.

Note: companies with 100+ employees; includes use of anyof the proprietary public-facing social network tools for marketing purposes for each platform mentioned; includes organic and paid functions; *includes all social networks. Source: eMarketer, Now 2017

If the data is any indication, your company is probably already present on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to offer customer service on those platforms.

Customer Service on Facebook

Despite recent scandals, backlash, and the occasional stock crash, Mark Zuckerberg’s creation is still the most popular social network in most countries in the world, and, for most B2C brands, it’s an obvious choice to set up shop.

Facebook offers brands the most complete array of tools for any situation, including reviews, public posts, comments and private messages, and its messaging app is pretty much a customer support channel on it’s own.

Connect your brand’s messenger inbox to that of your customer support agents and make sure your team is ready to tackle all these issues and requests in a timely manner, as most customers expect to receive them in under one hour.

JetBlue are widely mentioned as an example to follow. I just dropped in their Facebook page, looked at the last 24h of activity and found these 2 conversations where you can see how they don’t avoid even the most difficult questions and get frequently rewarded for that.

Conversation on JetBlue's Facebook page
Faced with a problem she couldn’t fix, the agent provided all the information and apologised.
Conversation on JetBlue's Facebook page
A happier moment where the Customer Service team is seen as one, regardless of the channel used.

Small tip: Keep in mind that the marketing team can create a huge number of social ads that are not visible in the regular feed but are still capable of receiving comments and inquiries, much like any organic post.

Customer Service on Instagram

There’s a lot more than perfect #nofilter selfies, brunches and puppies being shared on Instagram. With a whooping 1 Billion monthly active users and above average engagement, brands are all over it.

The platform is a lot simpler than Facebook: you get public comments on your images and direct messages to your profile. Assuming your marketing team created a business account, and they probably did, just make sure to add all your contact information (phone, email and address).

Since Instagram belongs to the Facebook family, you can connect its direct messages to the same inbox and manage everything within the same interface. Thanks, Mark!

Customer Service on Twitter

Love it or completely fail to understand it, Twitter is a force to be reckoned with, and it has proven to take customer service on the platform seriously, by creating a set of dedicated features.

Brands can display that they provide customer service, which adds that information to suggestions when users search for the brand, mention it in a Tweet, or find it in Direct Messages. They can also display hours of availability on their profile.

Xbox Support is probably the best example of a full blown Twitter based Customer Service team.

Selection of tweets from Xbox Support
Xbox Support is dangerously close to 3 millions tweets.

Another small tip: not every customer support request should be handled in public. Whenever the topic is sensitive or there’s confidential information involved, it’s perfectly fine to move the conversation to a private channel.

3. Find the brand tone of voice

Users of social networks

Brand voice and personality are the heart and soul of your communications and should always reflect the brand values.

However, the tone of voice you use shouldn’t be the same on every platform or situation. Each social network has its own etiquette, expectations and limitations, and it’s essential that both the marketing copywriter and the customer support agent are aware of this.

For example, Twitter communication is short, to the point, happens quickly and often resorts to humour and memes, even between businesses.

Adobe answers to a customer complaint on Twitter
Sometimes you will be answering to a furious giant panda on twitter. It’s normal.

4. Choose the tech stack

You wouldn’t use a marketing tool to answer customer support emails and the same is true for social media engagement. Customer service should avoid the social media management tools that marketing is using and take full advantage of their own specialised tools. Whatever customer service tool you are using, be it mainstream, obscure or proprietary, just make sure it can integrate with the main social media platforms.

Popular CRMs like Zendesk, Service Cloud and Freshdesk all convert Facebook and Twitter inquiries to regular tickets and store them on a centralised location that your agents are familiar with. They can still see all the different sources, but don’t need to go anywhere else to solve it.

One more thing…

Once you complete the 4 steps above, you’re all set up and ready to provide customer support on social media channels.

If you want to go even further and aim for that perfect CSAT score, there’s a small trick that the top brands are using.

Popular social networks for customer service

Active social listening

Customer support teams that thrive for excellence don’t wait for a disgruntled customer to come knocking on their door. They listen to his complaints from a distance and jump in to save the day. This is how angry customers can turn into loyal fans.

Marketing might already be using social listening tools that allow you to scan the internet, looking for mentions of your brand. Adopt this practice within Customer Service and start to proactively solve your customer’s problems.

There are a few options to choose from, such as Hootsuite, Buffer, Sparkcentral or Mention.

Starbucks replies to a customer's positive mention on Twitter
Starbucks is listening to their customers and joins the conversation.

In the end, always find that I learn more about Sales and Marketing alignment when I talk to actual sales people or read articles they wrote themselves. Hopefully this article will do the same and shed some light and add value to those of you working in customer service.

It all boils down to this: provide the same amazing customer service on social media you do everywhere else, leverage the channels to better connect with your customers and you can build an online reputation that will make you the hero of your marketing colleagues.
Who knows, you may even go viral, and for the right reasons!

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